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Br Charise (Jean-Pierre Gras) to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Upolu, Samoa, 15 February 1852

APM ON 208 (Samoa) Gras, Charise

Clisby Letter 97. Girard doc. 1123

Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


Dubreuil returned to the Pacific with Douarre and his group in October 1848. When they reached Wallis in 1850, Bataillon appointed him to Samoa as Pro-Vicar. The bishop arrived in Samoa himself with Charise in December the following year. They first celebrated Christmas with Violette at Mulinu’u. In his memoirs Charise records: “Fr Violette celebrated High Mass while Mgr Bataillon and I did the singing. Neither of us was a musician, but the natives were astonished to hear such beautiful singing.” (Avit 3: 99) [1] The bishop stayed several months in Samoa. He purchased a piece of land at Mulivai in the middle of Apia where he planned to build a church. Hiring a French cargo boat he took Charise with him to Sydney to buy stone and building materials. When the vessel foundered on one of its trips he was forced to hire another, on which Charise returned alone to Apia. Bataillon returned later in the year and blessed the foundation stone on 8 December. Charise notes that his name joined those of Bataillon, Violette, Louis Fonbonne, and Jacques on the stone (Avit 3: 100).

This letter appears to have been posted some time after writing, together with another to Francois which explains the circumstances [14], probably during Charise’s sojourn in Sydney. The letter to Francois, however, has not been kept in the AFM.

Text of the Letter

Very Reverend Father,
I am taking the liberty of writing to you at the beginning of this new year to give you some idea of how I am going (if there is anything new). But I don’t see that up till now anything has changed. My dispositions, my resolutions, and my feelings are still the same. I don’t think I have gone backwards. And if I have advanced, it can only be in trust in God and in his love, and in the love of our good Mother too. I have adopted the resolution of leaving everything in her hands. From the moment of rising it is she who disposes of all my prayers and all my good works of the day. She knows better than I the ones I should pray for and all I need.
My meditations are almost always on the same themes: a pure and upright intention, trust in God, the duties of my state, why I have left the world and come here, and self-denial.
For my daily occupations, I do the cooking, take care of the house, wash and mend the linen when necessary - in a word, do everything I am told. I am not strong enough for heavy work - my stomach soon gives out on me and I have to lie down. Since I have been in this country, very reverend Father, I have not had half the vigour I had in France. I am continually soaked in sweat. But, in general, my health is sound enough. I lay part of the blame on this weakness of the stomach for the sufferings I endured in Africa when we were out on bivouac in bad weather, and for my repeated bouts of vomiting on the voyage, for the suffering was considerable. Before coming to Oceania I knew I would find sea travel painful. I think the good God will take note of my sacrifice too.
As for my character, I often pay a little too much attention to what others are doing, I get a bit sulky when I am crossed, and I speak my mind plainly and frankly to all. I am very hot-headed, and sometimes act a little too brusquely, most often without anger or malice, but occasionally out of self-regard. I frequently make a resolution to see only God in everyone and to discipline myself in my impatience and grumblings. But when the faults of others affect me in some way, I am very sensitive; sometimes my face reveals my bad humour. But if my superiors look kindly on me, all that vanishes.
I am with His Lordship and as he always has one of the Fathers with him, I am often alone, and that is very trying in this country. Fortunately I love solitude, prayer, and spiritual reading; anything else has little meaning for me. I am very happy, I am very well.
I regard obedience as a certain route leading straight to heaven. I strive as much as I can, too, to be obedient in the least things, for in that way I am sure of doing God’s will, and that is all I want. I have often reflected on my dispositions and I tell myself that I would willingly set out in the frailest of canoes to travel the seas, provided I was certain it was you who commanded it. Relying on my trust in God. Nothing causes me difficulty but I always rely on grace. God is my strength and my all in everything. When I became a religious I gave myself to him without reserve. But my sinful nature frequently puts up a strong resistance to my spirit, and this causes me to be judgmental and wilful and subject to similar miseries. One day it will all end, blessed be God.
A few days after my arrival on Upolu I made my chapter of faults to Fr Dubreuil and I am thinking of making another in a few days to a Father or Monsignor. Fr Dubreuil told me to continue on as I had been doing up to the present. He clearly understood my position is a difficult one most of the time, for His Lordship does not explain things in detail and frequently doesn’t know himself how he wants them done. It is true he has been ill for a long time and that makes him a bit hard to please, but he is a saintly bishop.
I go to confession regularly every week or fortnight. I make my particular examen at midday as far as possible.
Up to now, very reverend Father, I have always addressed my letters to you, with the intention that you will have them passed on for me to their respective destinations , if you think fitting, once you have read them. Last June I wrote you a similar letter before I left Wallis.
I have a great love for the meditations of Saint Theresa and for the Confessions of Saint Augustine. If those books don’t cost too much I would ask you, very reverend Father, to send copies addressed to me personally so as to avoid any problems. Your will is mine.] [2]
I have received the scapular of the Immaculate Conception and that of the Passion of Our Lord, but I haven’t any cloth to replace them when the ones I have are worn out. It is four years since I put on the first I was given, the Immaculate Conception. [3]
I was happy on arriving here to see the good Brother Jacques. Now I think we will soon be at the same station on the island of Upolu. I have been overjoyed to find such a good confrere on an island where I will probably finish my days.
Before closing my letter, I think it is good to tell you, very reverend Father, that I am indifferent to the things of this world. My heart yearns for quite different things. Gold and silver rouse no more desire in me than the sight of simple stones.
I have the honour of being, very reverend Father, in Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,
Your very humble and obedient servant,
Br Charise.
PS. Very reverend Father, the present letter I have written you in the Navigators I am having posted from Sydney. You will see the reasons for that in the letter I have written to dear Brother Francois which accompanies yours.


  1. Charise had in fact been the leading cantor of his parish. Notices necroliques 1884-1890, pp 55-8, AFM.
  2. This section of the letter [10] has been crossed out for some reason in the original.
  3. Scapular: badge of religious confraternity in form of two small squares of cloth joined by strings and worn around the neck under the clothing. It represented in miniature the outer garment worn by some religious orders.

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